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City marina customer paying '50 percent below market rate'

Posted at 9:00 AM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 10:33:56-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A year ago, the City of Corpus Christi hired a new municipal marina director, and one of director Jonathan Atwood's first tasks was to review all the contracts and leases at the marina.

What he discovered is one lease, dated February 2014, has been receiving a discount of about 50 percent, according to city manager Peter Zanoni.

“He looked at all the business process and leases at the marina and it was apparent to him that this one was dated and may need to be revisited,” Zanoni said.

The lease in question is with a company called Barge Services, LLC. It is the only marina lease receiving a market rate discount, Zanoni said.

This company currently pays about $800 a month for its slip rental and utilities for its 104-foot barge – the same as a similar-sized yacht. He said the company should be paying closer to $1,500 monthly.

Zanoni, however, says comparing the barge to a yacht is like comparing apples to oranges.

“It's way below market, way below what we should be charging,” Zanoni said. “He's paying about 50 percent of what would be a more prevailing rate.”

He believes a more accurate comparison would be to Landry’s Seafood, a restaurant located at the Corpus Christi Marina, which is also on a floating barge.

“What we're looking at is the amount of space it takes to keep his barge there; it's about six boat slips,” Zanoni said.

The condition of the barge, the way in which it is positioned and the location at the pier are all factors the city must consider in pricing a lease, he added.

Barge Services, LLC is part-owned by outgoing Port of Corpus Christi Commissioner Richard Valls, according to documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

His brother Lawrence is also part-owner, and it’s Lawrence’s signature on the lease. When contacted about the barge, Richard Valls told KRIS 6 News he's not involved with the lease and referred us to his brother.

However, Zanoni says both the marina manager and he have spoken with Richard Valls about updating it.

“I saw him recently at a business luncheon and I brought it to his attention that we were going to have to update your lease,” Zanoni said.  

Because the people who negotiated the lease no longer work for the city, Zanoni doesn’t know why the rent for Barge Services, LLC is so low.

When asked what the city is doing now to prevent something similar from happening again, Zanoni said, “This is one of the reasons why we brought in new leadership, to check out all the business at the marina to make sure it's in better order than it was months ago.”

Zanoni is confident a new lease will be signed by the time it renews in February. We also tried contracting Lawrence Valls, but a message left for him was not returned.